Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 20
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
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Profiles in Education

Photo by Linda Arntzenius
Patricia Rhodes

Patricia Rhodes

Linda Arntzenius

Patricia Rhodes is Princeton through and through. Born in the Princeton hospital in 1947, she attended the Nassau Street School and then the Witherspoon School from sixth to eighth grade. That was back in the days when Howard B. Waxwood Jr. was principal and Larry Ivan, who has managed the Community Park pool for more than three decades, was teaching. After graduating from Princeton High School in 1965, she married Ralph Jackson, her high school sweetheart, and the young couple moved to Chicago so that Ralph could become an apprentice pharmacist in his uncle's pharmacy.

The oldest of four siblings, Ms. Rhodes has two sisters, Lynet and Lisa, and a brother Emanuel, named for her father, who ran his own hauling business in Princeton, as did her grandfather Playton Rhodes. Her grandfather also worked in maintenance for the First National Bank, which was once on the corner of Witherspoon and Nassau streets. "I have fond memories of going there on Sundays with Lynet after Sunday school. We'd walk there and tap on the window and he'd let us in and let us dust." The two sisters earned enough pocket money to go to Balt's restaurant for ice-cream. "Oh, that was a long time ago!" she recalled. Nowadays, Mr. Rhodes often swings by her parents' home on John Street during her lunch break. "My Dad is 86 and my mother is 81, and it's nice to be able to go there and sit on the porch. It's a blessing to have them both," she said of her parents, Hazel and Emanuel Rhodes, who will soon celebrate 60 years of marriage.

Although Princeton is in her blood, when she moved back from Chicago in 1973, it was to Trenton that she looked because of the high costs in her hometown. It takes her about 20 minutes, sometimes 30 depending on traffic, to get to her Valley Road job from her home. Working for the district runs in the family, too. Her mother retired from the district in 1996 after years as an instructional aide at Riverside School. Her son Emanuel, or J. as he is known (from his middle name, Jason), works for the district as part of the grounds crew. Her other children live in South Jersey: Gina and Ralph each have two daughters and a son. With Emanuel's two children, that's eight grandchildren altogether.

Valley Road

Ms. Rhodes has been with Princeton Regional Schools since 1976 when she was hired by Littlebrook Principal Lloyd Taylor and was trained as a clerk typist by Julia Nemeth. "When Julia retired, I took on her job," said Ms. Rhodes who was pleased to meet up with both Principal Taylor and Ms. Nemeth last year at Littlebrook's 50th anniversary celebration. Since 1976, Ms. Rhodes has worked in every school in the district save Johnson Park and John Witherspoon Middle School. Since 1994, she's been executive secretary in the department of human resources, working with Assistant Superintendent Lewis Goldstein in the Valley Road administration building.

That her desk is often the first stop for those with unanswered questions might be due to the fact that Ms. Rhodes has been with the district for over 30 years. Or maybe it's because of her reputation for being helpful. The aspect of her job that she enjoys most is the interaction with employees, especially during the orientation session for new teachers and support staff that usually take place each year at the end of August. Newcomers to the district receive a thorough introduction to Princeton Regional Schools and to the town of Princeton itself, including a tour of the University. "The session usually lasts between three and four days and I enjoy preparing for this with my colleague Elizabeth Maurer," said Ms. Rhodes who describes Communiversity as one of her favorite events of the year and visiting the Princeton University Art Museum and simply walking around the campus as favorite activities.

Jazz & Pound Cakes

"I take things one day at a time and try not to be a worrier," she said. Her reputation for being laid back is exemplified by her love of smooth jazz. She listens to CDs that her son Ralph, a D.J., has compiled for her, and attends the Trenton Jazz Festival when she can. It's a love that began when she was in high school and joined an Album of the Month Club. "The first album I ever bought was when I was 16. It was Dave Brubeck and my son has the album now." Cooking is also a favorite activity that has earned her the moniker of "pound cake lady."

To counteract the effects of pound cake, Ms. Rhodes walks and dances. "I will dance at the drop of a hat, all kinds, swing, bop, line dancing is great because it gets everyone up on their feet and out on the floor." Her skills as a roller skater, an early hobby, impressed even her own children at a granddaughter's birthday party held at the Kendall Park rink on route 27. "They were surprised to see me putting on skates but I learned at a young age and it came back to me easily," she recalled. A keen craftsperson, Ms. Rhodes crochets and also enjoys making photographic collages for friends and family.

Besides these extracurricular activities, Ms. Rhodes is a member and past president of the American Legion Auxiliary, Unit 218, which looks after the needs of World War II veterans like her father. Education is an issue close to he heart ever since she first contemplated becoming a teacher herself back in high school and she's been a keen supporter of the Princeton-Trenton Zeta Amicae (Friends of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Epsilon Xi Zeta Chapter) since 1981, helping to raise money for scholarships for high school students at the group's annual celebration in November.

If Princeton has changed a lot since Pat Rhodes was attending the district's schools, she feels that the changes have been "for the positive overall." She does, however, look forward to the day when the Valley Road building is refurbished and is optimistic that it won't be too far in the future.

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